WINSTON-SALEM, North Carolina (Ticker) -- Chris Paul made an early statement.
Among the favorites for Player of the Year honors, Paul scored 25 points on 7-of-12 shooting to lead second-ranked Wake Forest to a solid 97-76 victory over George Washington in the opening round of the preseason NIT.
The Demon Deacons, who won their 11th straight season opener, will face Virginia Commonwealth on Thursday in the second round of the 16-team tournament. VCU got past American, 82-76, in overtime on Monday.
Leading his team on numerous transition baskets, Paul scored 14 first-half points, pacing his team to a 47-42 lead at the break. He finished with six assists.
"Coach always tells me going into every game to be more assertive and aggressive," Paul said. "When we get down or get a huge lead, he tells me to be an extension of him on the court."
After jumping out to a 22-14 lead, Wake Forest fell behind 36-35 on T.J. Thompson's 3-pointer with 5:48 remaining. Paul responded with a pair of free throws and a jumper over the next 2:16 to give his team a 44-38 advantage.
"Coach (Karl) Hobbs had those boys well prepared and well coached," Wake Forest coach Skip Prosser said. "We didn't play as succinctly as we would have like but I told the kids to enjoy this and we will deal with the shortcomings tomorrow."
Justin Gray scored 18 points and added seven steals and Vytas Danelius scored 17 for Wake Forest, which closed out the contest with a 22-7 run.
Junior center Eric Williams chipped in 16 points and five rebounds for Wake Forest.
Thompson scored 16 points on 5-of-10 shooting for the Colonials (0-1), who committed 25 turnovers and 30 personal fouls.
Mike Hall added 10 points and 10 rebounds for George Washington, which faced Wake Forest for the first time since December 6, 1975 and fell to 18-16 in all-time series.